It seems that when I uploaded my entire CD collection onto iTunes I may have inadvertently appropriated a few of my parents’ CDs at the same time, including a more recent album by the Boss (that’s Bruce Springsteen for those of you who don’t already know). But, you may ask, why is this relevant?
Well…as I set my iPod to shuffle and skipped through the odd tune I had no interest in there, nestled between some unmemorable and by contrast somewhat insipid contemporary songs, was a gem of a folk song by Springsteen titled ‘Erie Canal’. I don’t know why but it struck a real chord with me, so much so that I kept it on repeat it all the way to work…until the words were ingrained in my memory and I was merrily singing along at the top of my voice. You really must listen to it if you get the chance.
I suppose it was the sentiment which captivated me. It was also very timely as I’d not long been out on my boat trip. Anyway, it got me thinking about why it is that you can visit any of our waterways and, almost without exception, be greeted warmly by a total stranger. Now, I’ve moved out of London and into a small village and I can tell you that the contrast is stark. I now know my neighbours well and many of the other villagers enough to say 'hello' as we pass but, in London, it was very different. Our neighbours were effective strangers; I wouldn’t be asked to feed their dog and in return it wouldn’t occur to me to approach them for a glass of Brandy when my toothache became intolerable.
However, what I experienced on my trip took this one step further. People we were never going to see again took the time to make eye contact, smile and then wish us a good morning as our lives momentarily collided (not literally, of course). It wasn’t forced, false or over the top – instead it felt like the acknowledgement of an unspoken understanding that we were sharing something special and we must not allow it to be destroyed by uncaring selfishness or indifference. In the simple act of this greeting we were playing our own small role in preserving the intangible atmosphere which was cherished mutually.
I know it’s already clear that I’m a sentimental old fool but there are also more practical reasons why this behaviour is so significant. It means that instances of ‘neighbour disputes’ or anti-social behaviour are rare. It means that mooring sites are communities not just a group of people living in close proximity. It means that people will actively choose to visit our waterways because their lives are touched in a way that they would not be during a trip to the park or a jog around their own neighbourhood.
It means that school children will continue to arrive because their teachers believe that they should be educated about their history while experiencing something so rare that we are risk of losing altogether in our everyday lives. It means that people will chose to support us because they want to be part of something they can preserve for future generations to understand and appreciate when modern day living means that all your friends are virtual and no other living soul will even acknowledge your existence.
I also know that there are many other, and probably more important, reasons why we have your support. However, for me, this is right up there with the best of them.
I'd like to urge you to continue to play your part, never become complacent, take a moment to greet someone you don’t know and see how good it makes you feel when they return your greeting along with a smile.
Sarina joined us in 2008 as our customer services co-ordinator. Among other things, she manages our national customer service team, complaints procedure and requests for information made to the Trust. She says that the most important thing to her is to be able to go home and feel as though she’s achieved something, however small that might be. Her job is hugely satisfying, widely varied, full of deadlines, immensely interesting, sometimes challenging and no day is ever the same, although some are surprisingly familiar!See more blogs from Sarina Young